Inaugural Solar Manufacturing Contest from the Department of Energy

The Department of Energy (DOE) is presenting its inaugural American-Made Solar Prize competition this year in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This event marks an effort by the DOE, by way of a $3-million-dollar prize competition, to strengthen the country’s solar manufacturing capabilities. In doing so, the Solar Prize also encourages students and professionals alike to stay competitive in this growing and increasingly vital field.

What’s the idea?

The Department of Energy put the American-Made Solar Prize competition together following President Trump’s early 2018 tariffs on imported solar panels. The DOE hopes that, through incentives, entrepreneurs and academics will be able to reinvigorate the country’s leadership position in the global solar energy marketplace. Eventually, they are hoping this program will connect participants to the private sector as well as to the network of laboratories and manufacturing facilities the DOE has at its disposal for further solar development.

Meet the contestants

Individuals and groups can participate in the program in two ways. Participants are divided into the “Competitors” and the “American-Made Network” categories. The Competitors group will consist of small business owners, students, university faculty members, researchers, independent organizations, and anyone else with the potential to produce new solar energy products. These are the groups and individuals competing for part of the $3 million in total prize money for their ideas and innovations.

  • Twenty-40 winners of the “Ready!” competition will each receive $25,000-$50,000 for their ability to identify impactful solutions for a critical need in the science of solar technology. Winners can then move on to the “Set!” contest.
  • Five-10 winners of the “Set!” competition will each earn $75,000- $200,000 in prize money. These competitors will have worked to develop a refined and viable proof of concept toward the development of their technology.
  • Two winners of the “Go!” competition will each receive $500,000. This contest is reserved for participants who not only have a proof of concept but also a functional prototype of their new technology.

The second category of participants, The American-Made Network, consists of national labs, seasoned investors, and industry leaders. Essentially, individuals and organizations in this category will earn the opportunity to mentor and to help guide and develop the winning ideas that come from the Competitors’ ideas.

Winning impact

The participants in and winners of the American Made Solar Prize competition stand to have a sizable impact on the future of solar tech manufacturing in the U.S. Specifically, the layout of the contest is designed to use the small-batch prototyping involved in the contest to speed up cycles of innovation coming out of American laboratories and development facilities. The program creators also hope to jump-start ongoing connections between the creators of new technology with American corporate and venture capital sources.

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